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Latest F1 news in brief
  • Saturday news briefs from Melbourne
  • Branson's 'Virgin won't go all the way' - headline
  • Underdog Mercedes has less manpower than rivals
  • Vettel, Massa, step into GPDA roles
  • Mutua Madrilena set for F1 return with Alonso
  • McLaren's Whitmarsh favors radical rule changes
  • Sydney admits push to take GP from Melbourne

Saturday news briefs from Melbourne
(GMM)  Mark Webber thrilled a big crowd of his countrymen at Albert Park on Saturday afternoon by setting the quickest time in the pre-qualifying practice session.  His Red Bull set more than one lap good enough for the top spot, two tenths ahead of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari as well as Michael Schumacher.


Melbourne's weather conditions are cooler, windier and darker than on Friday, and a forecast on the TV monitor in the media centre said showers are possible on Saturday for the time of qualifying.

John Travolta with Australian Mark Webber

Hollywood actor John Travolta, who is an ambassador for the race's title sponsor Qantas, arrived at Albert Park just before Saturday's practice session.  Travolta, who will wave the checkered flag late on Sunday, has his own 707 jet in the airline's 1960s livery.


With Saturday's paddock abuzz with news of Lewis Hamilton's brush with the local police, and the British media unsure whether to lambast or defend the 25-year-old, Mark Webber cheekily advised the 2008 world champion to take some driving tips "from Tiger Woods".  But Australian GP organizer Ron Walker defended Hamilton: "He spends a lot of his time talking to young people about road safety.  I think he can be forgiven for this indiscretion."


Nico Hulkenberg was fined EUR1800 for exceeding the pitlane speed limit by 8.6kph in Saturday's practice session.

Branson's 'Virgin won't go all the way' - headline
(GMM)  Sir Richard Branson's arrival at the Albert Park circuit on Saturday coincided with an unfortunate headline in Britain's The Sun tabloid.

The headline said the British billionaire's "Virgin won't go all the way"; a cheeky reference to the bizarre story about the VR-01 car's fuel tank being not big enough to last a full race distance.

The newspaper said the new team is now the "laughing stock of F1", and that the car's redesign will cost Branson a million pounds.

Said a rival team boss: "It sounds to me as if they missed a decimal point."

The Daily Telegraph broadsheet was less unkind, but nonetheless reflected the amazement in the paddock about how the blunder could have been made by the team.

"The three other Cosworth-supplied teams did not make the same mistake despite the same fuel consumption," read the article.

But Virgin chief executive Graeme Lowdon told BBC radio that the problem is a "supplier issue", coinciding with suggestions the fuel tank was supplied by a different company than the rest of the 2010 field.

Underdog Mercedes has less manpower than rivals
(GMM)  Mercedes' smaller staff numbers means the team will need to work harder to catch up its deficit to the frontrunners, boss Ross Brawn has admitted.

Amid the Briton's management takeover in the wake of Honda's departure at the end of 2008, Brawn GP shed hundreds of staff but still won last year's title as its performance advantage diminished.

This year, Mercedes has taken over, but the Brackley based team remains lean, and this time Brawn is needing to ramp up its performance to catch the quickest Red Bulls and Ferraris.

"With 450 employees, it takes longer to implement certain development stages," he told Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.

"It would make no sense to take on 300 extra people," said Brawn, referring to the F1 teams' pledge to the FIA to reduce annual budgets to early 90s levels.

"We are already at the size that we need to be at the end of the year, while for our opponents that is yet to come," he added.

Vettel, Massa, step into GPDA roles
(GMM)  Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa have stepped into leading roles with the Grand Prix Drivers' Association.

During a meeting of the safety-oriented body at Albert Park, Mercedes reserve driver Nick Heidfeld was voted in as the new chairman, with Pedro de la Rosa wanting to concentrate instead on his new Sauber race seat.

The German news agency SID now reports that, at the same time, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso stepped down as de la Rosa's fellow directors.

Mutua Madrilena set for F1 return with Alonso
(GMM)  Mutua Madrilena is reportedly set to return to formula one as a sponsor.

The Madrid based insurance company cancelled its estimated EUR3.5 million per season backing of the Renault team last year amid the crash-gate scandal.

Spanish news agency EFE says the Spanish brand now wants to renew its personal backing of Fernando Alonso, with whom it has "good relations" and has "supported from the beginning".

The report said the comments were made by the company's president Ignacio Garralda.

Spaniard Alonso switched from Renault to Ferrari ahead of the 2010 season.  Mutua Madrilena also sponsored the 28-year-old when he drove for McLaren in 2007.

McLaren's Whitmarsh favors radical rule changes
(GMM)  The possible rule changes to be discussed by F1 team bosses in Malaysia next week range from the relatively minor to the radical.

With the processional 2010 season opener having started the persisting 'Bore-rain' saga, McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh admitted that the tone of the meeting will be set by what happens during the 58 laps of Sunday's Australian grand prix.

"If we have a less than stunning race then the likelihood of pushing through changes is enhanced.  Personally I want a stunning race and changes," he told the Telegraph.

Any mid-season changes will require total unanimity, which - given some teams' efforts to safeguard their competitive position - is unlikely.

Whitmarsh said most of the changes on the table involve the qualifying format, such as reverse grids and 'success ballast', where drivers higher in the championship carry weights aboard their cars.

Another idea is a 'knockout draw' where drivers go head-to-head before a final shootout.

"The fastest one who doesn't make a mistake will still take pole but it has a virtue in how you use your tires," said Whitmarsh.

"And in some races you will be in the easy half of the draw and be flattered by your grid position," he added.

Sydney admits push to take GP from Melbourne
(GMM)  A rival city is revving up its efforts to take the Australian grand prix from Melbourne after 2014.

Since 1996, the Albert Park event has been funded by the Victorian taxpayer, but the events minister of the New South Wales government has admitted he is bidding to have the race switched to Sydney.

"There are a few hurdles we will need to overcome, but I am confident we can work through these challenges," said minister Ian Macdonald to the local Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Sources in the F1 paddock on Friday had said the Sydney bid is for a race at Homebush, an inner western suburb.

"Sydney is better placed to be able to generate greater international interest in this event than Melbourne, because of its high international standing," the minister added.

Rival Victorian minister Tim Holding described the New South Wales government as the "nation's biggest blowhards".

"First they were going to steal our tennis, then the AFL (football) grand final, then it was Tiger Woods and now the grand prix," he said.

Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker also attacked the plans.

"The NSW government does not have the focus, passion or drive to seek major events like we do in Victoria.

"(It) has been in hibernation since the Olympics -- they've done nothing since then," he added.

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